Expat Toolkit: Comparing the cost of living

Adam Vagley @goodmigrations

3 ways to compare cost of living

One of the most important things to consider when moving abroad is the cost of living in the destination country. If your company is relocating you then you’ll want this information so you can determine how much compensation you’ll need to live the lifestyle you want. Or if you’re retiring abroad you need to know what locations you can afford on a fixed income.

When I moved from New York (the most expensive city in the United States and ranked as the 47th most expensive city in the world according to the most recent Economist cost of living index) to Sydney, Australia (currently number seven on the Economist list) I used some online websites to determine the cost differences. They all suggested Sydney was similar to NYC. However, when I arrived for the first time I learned it definitely is not. Since then I’ve discovered several better tools you can use and thought I’d share them with the wider expat community.

Expatistan  http://www.expatistan.com
Expatistan is a crowdsourced database of prices around the world that lets you compare one city to another. The prices are entered for six categories of consumer items: Food, Housing, Clothes, Transportation, Personal Care, and Entertainment. You can expand each category to see more specific information, such as the costs of a beer in a local pub, laundry detergent, and a haircut. Expatistan shows that NYC is 6% cheaper than Sydney overall, and that roughly matches my experience. One area where Expatistan shows New York being more expensive is housing — and again this is accurate based on my personal experience in both cities.

Numbeo  http://www.numbeo.com
Numbeo is another crowdsourced cost of living website. It breaks down prices into more categories than Expatistan but they essentially compare the same items. It’s not quite as user-friendly as Expatistan since it provides you a generic cost of living index number initially, but if you scroll to the bottom of the page you can enter another city to compare. Numbeo says Sydney is almost 20% more expensive than New York.

Numbeo is unique in that beyond just cost of living you can also compare property prices, traffic, health care, crime rates, pollution, and overall quality of life. This will give you a more complete picture of the city and country you’re moving to.

The challenge with both Expatistan and Numbeo is that they compare cities. Both New York City and Sydney are enormous and one neighborhood can have vastly different attributes from another. Ideally, it’d be great to be able to compare by postal code or neighborhood.

Humuch  http://www.humuch.com
This website makes you login with Facebook or Google or sign up with your email in order to use, which I dislike. It does let you be more granular than Expatistan and Numbeo — for example, even though I live in Sydney I technically live in a suburb called Bondi. Humuch made it possible to look up the cost of living suburb by suburb. I liked the potential of this feature, but unfortunately they didn’t have any data for Bondi so it wasn’t much use. Their city comparisons weren’t as easy to use or informative as the other two sites. You can, however, ask for price information if you can’t find it on the site, so if you have a specific thing you want the price for this site may help.

Whichever site helps you the most, it’s important that you properly understand what life is going to cost so you can plan accordingly.
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